The price of keeping up keeps going up in NASCAR.
And nowhere is that more evident than Dover.
The 50th anniversary of the Monster Mile is no place for underfunded teams. Upstarts don’t win at Dover, which hasn’t seen a surprise winner since Jody Ridley in 1981. In fact, since the track opened in 1969, Ridley’s win in Junie Donlavey’s Ford is the only surprise winner.
Something about the concrete oval demands well-built cars and proven drivers.
But the price of keeping up means the tracks themselves have to spend now, too. Dover announced this week it would invest $5.5 million in improvements as soon as this weekend’s races end, a decision timed not just because the series is there this week but because of the news last week that the end is nigh for tracks that can’t keep up.
NASCAR itself has hinted that some tracks on the circuit have become outdated, not just in facilities but in appeal to fans.
Dover is one of the unique tracks in NASCAR and one with its own unique history. But even the 50-year-old speed bowl needs some fixing.
The track’s plan to upgrade its garage also include plan to finally do away with the grassy areas inside the turns and add SAFER barriers where there’s been, unbelievably, guardrails between the cars and the garage all these years.
For all the modern improvements going on in stock-car racing through the years, it’s almost impossible to believe that all the tracks still haven’t surrounded the walls in the impact-resistant barriers.
Even stubborn Indianapolis Motor Speedway has concrete walls down the straights. But guardrails in 2019? No excuses.
So Dover, one of three tracks not owned by either the France family or the Smith family, is continuing a long tradition of makeovers that have indeed kept it in the inner circle of cool tracks that appeal to fans and drivers alike.
When the contracts with NASCAR run out after 2020, Dover is positioned to survive the cut, and it hopes to keep both of its events. That will be the key for many tracks fans have decided are too “cookie-cutter” or too boring.
Dover is neither.
In its 50 years, the 1-mile blur has been a tough test for teams not capable of keeping up. The list of winners is remarkable in terms of the sport’s history. Other than a handful of names, you can make the argument that most of Dover’s winners through the years either are or will be in the Hall of Fame.
Not all tracks can say that.
Not all tracks have Dover’s history.
And not all tracks have a future, for that matter.